Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well, the cranberry sauce is in the fridge and the plans are written down for the oven-baked stuffing and the green bean casserole to be made tomorrow. One friend is finishing up the baking tonight: pumpkin pie, lemon tarts, and custard tarts. Other friends will be getting up early tomorrow to put in the turkey. The squash soup was made a few days ago and frozen. The sweet potatoes are ready for re-heating tomorrow as well. Some sort of apple chutney has been mentioned, maybe fruit salad, and olives to start. It should be a fine feast. This is the first time we've divided all the cooking up three ways, and I'm very grateful for it. Many times I've done the whole job myself, but it's getting to be a bit too much for me! (I am, thankfully, over my head cold, but my back is still not healed up.) It will be so nice to have friends with us tomorrow.

I hope all of you have a nice day, a pleasant meal at home or with others, and a chance to think about all the incredible things in our lives we have to be thankful for!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday Earrings

A while back, a friend asked me if I was planning to do anything special on my Etsy site  for the upcoming holidays. Well, I'm no humbug about Christmas, but I'm not crazy about how commercial the holiday has become. And I didn't want to make "special earrings" in the shapes of snowmen, trees, or angels. 

This fall at a bead show, I saw a lot of pretty funky lampwork glass beads in these kinds of shapes and beaders were buying them to use for Christmas crafting. I've also recently seen for sale in bead catalogues Austrian crystals cut to make up the layers in a Xmas tree. So I guess these special holiday earrings are actually quite popular. I have nothing against them if people like them, but that's just not what I want to make when I design earrings.

But I do like the idea of making some beautiful earrings that would look great for a holiday party or get together and yet would be perfectly suitable for wearing any other time of the year as well.

So I looked through my big online inventory of nearly three hundred earrings (which is still less than half of my non-virtual inventory) and identified a few pairs that seemed to fit that description.

So, if you are browsing in my Etsy shop, check out the new section option called "Holiday Earrings" and see what some of the possibilities are. Earrings do make great gifts as well as ways to dress up your own holiday outfits. Enjoy!
Also, for your locals, we will be in the Illini Union for the Holiday Bazaar on Wednesday and Thursday of the week AFTER Thanksgiving (Dec. 1 and 2) from 10-5 pm. I'll have the entire inventory available there. Drop by and see us!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

November Winding Down ...

The weather has turned definitively autumnal around here, as the leaves drift down from the trees and November moves ever closer to the end. It makes me think of the words to that old song "and the days dwindle down ... to a precious few." Unfortunately, the last couple of those "precious few" days have been fairly miserable chez moi because of sore throat, fever, and clogged sinuses. Today is a bit better, but now I seem to have messed up my lower back from being in bed so long!

But before the recent misery, there was fun to be had, and we had some of it. I knew that it was going to be a great day for weather on Friday (and a cold snap coming after that), so I put myself into high gear and finished up the book I was copyediting a bit in advance of the deadline to free up the day. We went to Heron Park, an area of wetland, just north of Danville, with a lovely boardwalk, observation tower, and benches. We'd been there a few weeks ago, but it was a cold and windy day and we arrived late in the day, so the birdwatching was limited.

This time, the weather was perfect and we had lots of time, but the wetlands had dried up! Most of the area under the boardwalk was just left with puddles and animal footprints (racoon, muskrat, possum, shore birds) in the mud. We did see a few kildeer, so pretty with their brown-and-white stripes and distinctive call, but most of the birds must have gone to deeper waters. There were a few quick little birds (swamp sparrow?) flitting around in the brush. They are what my mom used to call ELBs (elusive little bastards), so we couldn't really see them well enough for clear identification. The "real" birders, of course, are willing to get up at the crack of dawn (or before), able to keep quiet the whole time ("hey, guys, look at this!!!), and know the sounds of the birds so they can identify those they can't actually see.

Nonetheless, a good time was had by all. On the way over, we'd taken the scenic route on some lovely curving road that Abraham Lincoln once traveled through hilly areas and ravines, a rare treat for us flatlanders. On the way home, we stopped at O'Leary's for a bite to eat.

Saturday included the usual brunch and library trip, nice and relaxing as always (I even got the New Yorker this time). Home to feed the five famished felines and then off to the Iron Post for Desafinado! As I think I've mentioned in an early post, we've been following this Brazilian samba and bossa nova band for about ten years now. Over that time, the change in players has resulted in the sound of the band evolving and changing.

One of the original founders, Connie Johnson, vibraphone player, moved to Portland, Oregon this summer. Connie is certainly missed -- the vibes are a mellow instrument for the music. Greg Jahiel (vocals in Portuguese and guitar) was the other co-founder, I believe. He's still part of the band, but he is temporarily busy with some important and exciting family activities. So George Turner on guitar and Karim Yengsep on acoustic bass have added their considerable talents to the mix.

Back at the beginning, Chad Dunn was the drummer and percussion experimenter, and there was a cello (Margo?) and her husband (Don?) on flute from time to time. Matt Plaskota was drummer for a while, succeeded by Joel Caracci. For quite a while, Tom Paynter has been with the group, on flute, melodica, and other interesting sound-makers. Giraldo Rosales on congas is also a steady feature of the band. I recently found out that he used to play congas for Sandunga. I love the conga sound, and it is absolutely essential to the kind of music that Desafinado plays.

There have been a couple of singers for Desafinado, one of whom, Simone da Silva, also moved to Oregon (do people really like that much rain?). But starting about three years ago, the singer has been the incomparable Elis Artz. Elis has the ability to express all the feelings in the lyrics and all the movement in the beat in a wonderfully natural and radiant way. It doesn't matter whether the listening audience understands the meaning of the Portuguese lyrics because Elis pours out the meaning in her voice.

This evening's performance was especially delightful for a couple of reasons. The Iron Post has a real piano, a Baldwin grand, and Tom Paynter played! This was quite a treat. Tom is so perfect with the flute and melodica in those haunting Brazilian melodies that those who haven't heard him on keyboards in other bands may not realize what they are missing! I'm really curious now about how and when Tom got interested in jazz because there is clearly some classical background as well. Tom is modest and rarely blows his own horn, but he is an extraordinarily talented musician (and loves to do experimental things like reaching into the piano to pluck a string!). Another cool note was the wonderful bowing work (there's probably a technical term for it) on the bass from Karim in a couple of numbers, including the beautiful "Quiet Night of Quiet Stars." And a third treat was that Mikael Templeton on saxophone joined the group for one number. His sound is so smooth! We'd like to hear more from him!

The place wasn't really crowded (I wish more people would come out for this great band!), but there was a nice audience of appreciate folks. Shelley Masar was doing some kind of dance and yoga performance in the wings during the second set, so I promised to mention her in my blog. She's very flexible and graceful. I usually think of yoga as sort of private and meditative rather than performance-oriented.

Too bad I forgot (again!) to bring the camera for pics. I'll try to catch them the next time.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Full Weekend

Well, it's Sunday night and I've just been thinking over our weekend activities. A pretty full and fun weekend, all in all. It continues to be a dry and fairly colorful fall, with leaves still partially on the trees and partially on the ground. On Friday, the crew from LetUsGetDirty4You came over and did a little leaf raking, tree seedling removal, and pulling up more of those unending starts of trumpet vine. We'll have to wait for some cold nights (we had one that night at 19 degrees) and some rain to knock all the leaves down so they can come back and clean the gutters.

Then later we had some leftovers from the freezer (corn casserole and turkey, yum) and watched an excellent but rather heavy DVD, a Polish film about the massacre of most of the Polish educated class by the Soviets in 1940 in Katyn Forest. The shootings were blamed on the Germans and the repressive Soviet regime was able to keep the truth hidden for a long time.

So then we needed something to lighten up with and went over to the Iron Post for Samba Soul!
Vivian Feliciano was singing in Brazilian Portuguese and doing a bit of samba dancing as she sang. George Turner provided some cool guitar work beside her, with Brent Jordan on drums in back and Karim Yengsep on bass on the other side.

Carlos Vega on saxophone joined in the fun and Lara Driscoll on the piano. They did a number of the Brazilian samba and bossa nova favorites that we were familiar with from Desafinado (with singer Elis Artz, Greg Jahiel on guitar, Tom Paynter on flute and melodica, Giraldo Gonzales on congas, and Joel Carracci on drums).

Because it was a later set than we usually go to (starting at 9), the audience was a young crowd, lively and busy talking with each other, but everyone seemed to enjoy the upbeat sound and enthusiasm of the band.

Saturday's fun followed some of our favorite routines -- brunch at Original Pancake House with Frank the Supergardener. I think we discussed the difficulties of growing good tomatoes anymore, along with our complete dismay about election results, over bacon and eggs.

The next stop was the Urbana library. This time, some selfish person had grabbed the copy of the latest New Yorker so I was unable to read this issue's short story while sipping my caramel latte. (I only indulge in caffeine twice a week -- during Monday evening grocery shopping and Saturday afternoon book browsing.) David's Newsweek was out too, so he had to content himself with the New York Review of Books and a mango smoothie. Of course, I checked out the new fiction shelves as always, but this time I've already got too many piled up, having just finished a huge book of Deborah Eisenberg's collected short stories. I did pick up three CDs, however, by a Cuban pianist that Tom Paynter recommended.

After a quick trip home so the five felines could have their delicious premium canned food served on real china saucers, we left for another gig. This was also at the Iron Post. It's close to home, has music nearly every night, and good but reasonably priced cheeseburgers.

Sandunga, the Cuban guajira son band, was doing their "first Saturday" of every month concert. But that night they were more than a great band -- they were a phenomenon. The place was packed. The crowd tended to be fairly young and there were a lot of Latino folks from lots of interesting places who knew all the words to the songs.

William Hope played "tres" guitar and his wonderful 12-string laud. It's a Cuban instrument that sounds a bit like a cross between a guitar and a mandolin, and he plays it expertly and with great joy and spirit radiating out from him in all directions.

Andy Miller is one of three percussion players. He handles the bongos superbly and shakes the maracas and hits the bell-like instrument (a campana, I think it's called). He's young and lean and rather cool good looking with his big dreadlocks.

Adam Walton brought his three new beautiful congas and really heated them up with his quick hands!

And Tina Hope joins in on some vocals and keeps the beat lively with claves (wooden stick instruments) and the guacharaca (rasping metal along a wooden stick).

Julian Norato plays guitar and is lead singer; his soft and melodious voice is perfect for all those lyrics about the "corazon" (heart).

The music was so infectious, and how much this very together group obviously enjoys performing it came across big time to the audience. Part way into the second set, people got up and started dancing. And I mean really dancing! There were some couples, but a lot of them were women and girls and they were having a fantastic time! The energy was amazing. All these women, young and old alike, were swaying and wiggling and waving their arms about and singing along with this tremendously upbeat music from the Cuban countryside. Pretty soon every space between the tables was filled with dancers. (I took a photo at the very start before it got so crowded.)

They didn't ever want to music to end. In fact, I think the band wound up playing at least a half hour after their time while the next band waited to set up. The last encore was the most famous Cuban tune of all, Guantanamera, and the dancers and those sitting at the tables tapping feet and clapping hands went wild! It was such a fun and rejuvenating evening. It was cold outside going home, but we had such a warm feeling inside.

A nice personal note: when we had heard Sandunga some weeks back at the Illini Union Courtyard Cafe (see my prior post about "big night on campus"), David had forgotten his cozy warm old blue-and-black plaid flannel shirt-jacket. We'd called the Lost and Found and they put us "in their database," but we assumed it was lost for good. It turns out that Tina Hope found it and saved it for us and guessed that we might be coming to the Post, so she had it in her car!

Sunday turned out to be work day for me, a World Bank Report on Uganda was waiting to be copyedited. I'd had a long dry spell on freelance work lately and had almost forgotten why they call it "Work." Now I remember. But we later met up with Eleanore Brown, Etsy and Urbana library friend, for some tasty vittles at the Fiesta on First Street.

How was your weekend?